Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Fill those Wading Boots, Part 2, 5th August

(...continued from Part 1...)

Having spent the previous day checking a couple of our local hot spots, we decided over breakfast to branch out and head somewhere slightly more exotic. We chose the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve at Slimbridge where some different wading birds had been seen throughout the previous week. The best of these were a pair of moulting Curlew Sandpipers which were still sporting a large part of their red summer plumage and a Wood Sandpiper that had shown closely in front of one of the hides. We made our way straight to the hide in question and were greeted by, nothing! Well almost nothing since there were a couple of Lapwing and a few Teal but there was certainly nothing more interesting. I checked the Slimbridge Sightings twitter feed which is updated once the wardens have been out and about and saw that a Wood Sandpiper was indeed still present but at the Rushy Pen hide and not where we were. We got to the Rushy hide and were surprised to find only one other birder present and before he had the chance to tell me what's about (a bug bear of mine, I like to look for myself first) my quick glance around had already netted me the Wood Sandpiper. Mind you it was almost as far away from the hide that it could have been without being in the next county but through the scope it looked great.  I like Wood Sandpipers and this followed on from the one seen at Frampton Marsh (see Frampton Marsh, 23rd July) recently. I would like to see one really close up mind.

Wood Sandpiper
I studied some of the birds that were considerably closer to our viewpoint. An Avocet was very protective of it's family of youngsters and frequently chased off anything that it took a dislike to, which was pretty much every other bird since in turn it pursued Black-tailed Godwits, Coots and even Mallards until they were a safe distance away. The Avocet would then enter an uneasy truce with it's neighbours until some unseen spark started it off again. That old Sparks song began reverberating in my head, "This town's not big enough for the both of us"!

Avocet family
"Gerrout of it!"
"OK, who wants it?!"
The Black-tailed Godwits in contrast were largely relaxed and uninterested in any other birds but soon turned tail and ran if the Avocet demanded it. In between bouts of feeding the Blackwits would rest, preen, often standing on one leg, and stretch their wings. One bird even found time to yawn and demonstrate the curious ability of Rynchokinesis whereby a bird can bend its bill backward showing just how flexible a beak can be. Such sensitivity is a great aid when sifting through water and mud in search of food.

Rynchokinesis in action

There were also Green Sandpipers, Common Snipe and Ruff present but generally they were feeding distantly alongside the Wood Sandpiper. At one point the Sandpiper cousins met up and it was nice to note the comparison and differences between the two species.

Wood Sandpiper (left) with Green Sandpipers
I concentrated on a Lapwing for a moment that stood on a much closer island. The vibrant colours of the Lapwing are wonderful, they look as if they've been dipped in petrol (not a nice thought I know but you get it, right?).

Right in front of the hide a stream runs down from one part of the Rushy Pen into another and this attracts many birds for a dip and spruce up but also for a drink. A fabulous male Greenfinch, all too scarce in my part of the world these days, was one customer and he was followed by adult and juvenile Goldfinches, Pied Wagtails, a juvenile Grey Wagtail, House Sparrows and a Starling.

male Greenfinch
juvenile Grey Wagtail
juvenile Pied Wagtail
A young Jackdaw was more interested in what lay under the carpet of daisy's and a first year Black-headed Gull also strode around but sadly appeared to have a damaged wing.

juvenile Jackdaw
juvenile Black-headed Gull
Several Wood Pigeons landed at the mouth of the stream and began bathing. Their method was to lay down and soak up the water, Pigeon feathers act like sponges. One bird curiously raised one wing aloft and held it there for quite some time, I have no idea why. A passing Moorhen looked completely disinterested and just walked on by.

Wood Pigeon
I returned to studying the Wood Sandpiper which was still miles away but it had at least waded out into open water, not that it helped the photos much. I willed the bird to come closer but it remained well out of reach and even the converter made little difference at such range.

Wood Sandpiper
The Wood Sandpiper was then photobombed by a juvenile Common Crane and its parents! These giants of the bird world emerged from reeds and vegetation, strolled casually across the lagoon and promptly disappeared into the reeds on the opposite side. I was amazed how such big birds could just melt into the plants and render themselves invisible.

Photobombed Wood Sandpiper (bottom right)
juvenile Common Crane
adult Cranes
We gave up on hoping that the Woody would come closer, it clearly wasn't going to, and headed off to the South Lake where the Curlew Sandpipers had been seen all week. Of course today they were somewhere else having chosen the previous night to continue their southerly migration. They must have known that I was coming! But we're off to Frampton Marsh again next week and we'll probably see some there so I wasn't too bothered. I was more perturbed by the amount of noisy children and their equally irksome parents that were charging around the Slimbridge grounds. The trade off with this place, especially on a warm and sunny Sunday morning, was the visitors that come for the "zoo" birds and the child friendly attractions. Great work by the WWT in raising funds but hardly conducive to good and relaxing birdwatching. How much noise can small people make? A lot, I can tell you! I made a quick scrutiny of the wild birds on the Lake, noting some nice Ruff in various plumages as well as another family party of Cranes, apparently the parents are "Oakie" and "Skye", two of the three Cranes that graced BWR a couple of years ago, an event that only Mrs Caley and myself were witnesses to.

male Ruff
"Oakie, Skye & Cotton", Bicester Wetlands, 3rd May 2015
A Lesser Black-backed Gull landed on a post and made a racket of its own making, I just about heard it over the ambient din. A Kingfisher whizzed through quickly, no doubt seeking some peace and quiet of its own.

Lesser Black-backed Gull doing it's best to drown out the din of small people (and failing)!
I couldn't bear it any more and we made for the sanctuary of the Zeiss hide which overlooks a quieter part of the site. Here are truly wild birds but they are always distant, although you can relax and search through the Dunlin flocks for anything rarer. I couldn't find anything more interesting though other than the summering, and presumably feral, flock of Barnacle Geese.

Barnacle Goose
We had added only 2 species of wader to the weekend list making it 11, still a paucity compared to those East of England sites. As I drove away I made a firm note never to visit Slimbridge on a Sunday or during a school holiday ever again. Unless there's a really good bird around of course!

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